BUFFALO — A bank purposely avoided giving mortgages to African-Americans by locating all of its branches outside black neighborhoods and directing advertising and loan products toward largely white communities, New York’s attorney general said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday as part of a wider investigation into an illegal practice known as redlining.
Evans Bank is accused in the federal civil complaint of violating federal, state, and local housing and discrimination laws, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said at a news conference in Buffalo.
The bank’s practice of not making home improvement loans and mortgages available in Buffalo’s east side, home to more than 75 percent of the city’s African-American population, perpetuated racial segregation and the decline of the city’s housing stock, the lawsuit alleges.
‘‘This is a problem we thought we put behind us a couple of decades ago,’’ said Schneiderman, who was joined at the news conference by more than a dozen representatives from civic organizations including the NAACP, New York Civil Liberties Union, and Partnership for the Public Good.
Evans Bank is based in the suburb of Hamburg and has 13 branches in western New York and $830 million in total assets.
The bank’s president and chief executive, David Nasca, called the accusations ‘‘meritless’’ and said Evans will vigorously defend itself.
‘‘We remain confident that our residential lending practices meet all applicable laws and regulations,’’ Nasca said in the statement e-mailed to the Associated Press.
He said the company would have no further comment because of the pending legal action.
Schneiderman said the lawsuit is part of a wider investigation by his office into redlining, in which a lender denies access to mortgages or charges more in certain neighborhoods based on race.
It seeks unspecified civil fines and punitive damages.
Between 2009 and 2012, four of the 1,114 mortgage applications Evans received were from black applicants, according to the complaint, and only one was from a black applicant from the east side.